After an 18-hour search, the body of a Reno man who drowned Sunday afternoon near Devols Dam was found in the Muskingum River close to the location where he went under the water's surface.
Benjamin Jay Miller, 21, of Hadley Hollow Road, was in the water with three friends near a sand bar just north of Devols Dam when the accident occurred around 4:45 p.m.
"His friends tried to help, but the current was apparently too strong and he went under and didn't come back up," Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said after the body was located late Monday morning.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Washington County Sheriff’s deputies on Monday help escort the body of 21-year-old Benjamin Miller of Reno to a van at the Indian Acres boat ramp in Marietta. The drowning victim’s body was taken to Montgomery County for an autopsy.
He said none of the men were wearing life jackets, and investigators had been told that Miller could not swim. Most of the water was only chest high where the men were. Miller apparently fell into a deep channel and was pulled under by the current.
Mincks said neither alcohol nor drugs were considered to be factors in the incident.
"This was a tragic situation," he said. "But we caution anyone swimming in the river to wear a life jacket. And if you don't know what the depth is-don't swim there."
Miller's friends and family members declined to talk about the incident.
Mincks said the body was transported to the Montgomery County medical examiner in Dayton for an autopsy.
Personnel from seven area fire departments and sheriff's deputies searched the river well into the night Sunday.
Cadaver dogs from the Midwest K-9 Search Unit of Plain City, Ohio, also responded, as well as the Washington County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Mincks noted Miller's body was found less than 50 yards from where the dogs had alerted a hit on Monday.
"Crews were out until 2:30 a.m. (Monday) and we were back by 7 a.m.," said J.J. Bichard, assistant chief of the Devola Volunteer Fire Department.
Seven area fire departments took part in the search, including Devola, Lowell-Adams, Marietta, Warren, Reno, Oak Grove and Williamstown.
During his 20 years with the department, Bichard said there have been at least three drownings in the Muskingum River, including one other when the victim fell off a wall at Devols Dam in the 1990s.
He said the search for a drowning victim is generally initiated at the last spot the victim was seen.
"We go to the last point of entry into the water, then gradually spread the search out in the direction the current is flowing," Bichard said.
Divers with the Marietta Fire Department worked with sonar equipment operated by the Williamstown Volunteer Fire Department to locate the body.
"Using sonar is like mowing grass-you have to make several passes over the search area," said Paul Jordan, a member of the Williamstown VFD. "We may find all kinds of things like tires, cement blocks, anything. But when we locate something a diver has to go down and check to determine what it is."
He said the recovery was a true team effort.
"Every fire department and agency that helped in this did a great job," Jordan said. "Without that teamwork this search could have lasted at least two to three days or more."